Artist In Focus: Big Jim + The Sister Wives

IMG_4509Thanks for checking back in, Festers! We’re so excited to present our second winners of Battle of the Bands, Big Jim + The Sister Wives! They will be playing with Kale on Friday, April 24th at the Pembroke Field House. These two lovely ladies (unfortunately Big Jim was missing again, he’s really been slacking on his appearances) sat down with us to chat about their music and experience as a band!


Tell us a bit about yourselves! Where are you from? How did you get to Brown? How did you meet each other?

Elaina: I’ll be starting at the PhD program in June, we’re in the Biochem program and work in the same lab, that’s actually how we met! I’m from Seattle. I went to undergrad here, then I started a Masters program, and now I’m doing a PhD program, so it will be 7 years so far of being in Providence.

Vè: I’m from Maryland, from the suburbs. I came here to start my PhD program right after undergrad. I wish I would’ve taken a break, hindsight 20/20. I met Elaina when I came here because she was working on her Masters in a lab, and then… well, we didn’t do anything musical at first. She was in random bands with a bunch of different people, all with very interesting names.

Elaina: Biscuits and Groovy, one where we do really bad impersonations between every song…

Vè: We did an open mic in November, and then we were like, “Yeah, let’s do this! There’s no other time.”

Elaina: I was like, “Let’s practice all the time!” and Vè was like, “Let’s perform all the time, and then practice!”

So how has that worked out? What does your balance of practice and performance look like?

Elaina: We’re compromising… we’re still figuring it out!

Vè: We definitely have different styles in that regard. But I feel like my life is a show. You know, I practice in the show. I was reading a Dove chocolate thing, and it told me today to, “Do what feels right, and have no limits!” So I feel like maybe I’ll get murdered tonight…. No limits. No limits. I’d better do something crazy!

Where did the name Big Jim + The Sister Wives come from?

Elaina: So we were trying to find a  band name, so we were brainstorming on the floor with a bunch of different words… We had sister wives, but then we thought, “Wait, that’s a show…” And we were talking about how it’s cool to have “something and something” as the name!

Vè: And we also like the exact same kind of man. Which you think would be a problem, but because we’re so different (even on first glance), it works out! Unless their type is just all women. With working female parts.


How often do people think that there’s a Jim?

Elaina: 100% of the time they think there’s a Jim, so we keep making up excuses for him. I’m actually getting pretty fed up with his excuses, they’re getting lamer and lamer.

What was his best excuse?

Elaina: Usually we make them up on the spot… something like his second brother’s cousin Alfred is running errands or something.

Vè: There’s a complicated backstory for our husband, where he is, why he’s not home…

Elaina: There’s a lot of implied inbreeding in his family.

Vè: How do you keep the lines drawn? You gotta bring in different women from different backgrounds to get diversity. He’s a rare man, “I’m gonna take some of this, some of that…”

How would you describe your sound?

Elaina: Acoustic! Our main thing is our harmonies, that’s our strongest attribute. It kind of varies in style.

Vè: I would just say eclectic, which is a non-answer. We like all different types of music, and we come from different musical backgrounds! I guess I really like music that tells a story.

Elaina: I like music that has lyrics that are written in a type of vignette, where you don’t really know whats going on until that important piece of information, and you have to backtrack to put everything together. What we can agree on is the harmonies. I like really interesting harmonic parts. Vè has this disease that she will always sing the main part, and I have a disease that I will always sing the harmonies!

Vè: It works well, but with any other person, our disease might be a problem.

Elaina: I always want to sing the third or the fifth or whatever!


What are each of your musical backgrounds?

Vè: I have a very musical family. I started singing in church, in gospel choirs. and as I got older I joined chamber choirs, and a show choir once. I think more than anything I’m drawn to a soaring melody. Sometimes people say I can be dramatic, and I just like the fact that there’s an arc, and when things build, and you’re telling this whole elaborate thing. and that’s just such an awesome musical genre! I went through a huge country music phase for, like, 5 years. My grandmother’s from Kansas City, Kansas, so she’s super country. So I really embraced that. My mom, not so much, she would yell at me: “Calm down, Dolly Parton!!”

Elaina: I also went through a country music phase, but I don’t really have an excuse, because I’m from Seattle. I just love country music!

Vè: It tells good stories.

Elaina: That’s true. And I feel like country music is a lot more versatile on the emotional scale than a lot of other genres. I did not grow up singing, I don’t think I sang in front of anybody until college. I was very introverted in high school, I still am. But I played guitar and sang all during college, and wrote music. I only started doing collaborations in grad school, really! I played clarinet in high school.

Vè: I played the violin and bass! I’m a person who’s obsessed with things. Well, now it’s gotten better, where I get obsessed and give up in three weeks, so that works much better for my life. I think for three weeks I got obsessed with knitting, and I knit my friends an infinity scarf for their baby… And I gave it to them, and after I thought, “Maybe that’s a choking hazard… I don’t think a baby can wear that.”

Elaina: I also do that, I get really obsessed with things. But I think I last longer than three weeks. I knit, I paint…


So what are your current music obsessions?

Elaina: I love Noah Gunderson, He’s indie folk, and he has a family band that he started in, but now he has a solo career. Blind Pilot I really like.

Vè: My long-term musical obsessions are Warren Hill and Sara Bareilles, who you would think are very different, but they both tell stories about how they don’t belong, and their struggle to belong. I can identify with that! and i guess there’s this new British artist coming out, her name is Jetta, and she does alternative pop sometimes, and I really love her sound. She has this song, “I Would Love to Change the World,” which is about how she would love to change the world and then, in the chorus, she’s like, “But I don’t know what to do… so I’ll leave it up to you guys to figure out!” And there’s this sick beat that drops afterward, and you can tell she’s just like, “Whatever!!!”

Do you have a process when you write music? What does it look like when you create?

Elaina: We’ve been switching it up recently! The first song that we wrote, I tend to do this thing that I pick chords that I think sound really good together, and we come up with a tune, and then we figure out what we want to say in the song. But when that happens, everything sounds the same. They tend to be very similar chord progressions, so they sound like my music instead of our music. So I have been coming up with a lick or something, or a riff, and going from there figuring out what the chord progression is, and on.

Vè: I think we’re learning to compromise, because we have very different writing styles. Elaina is very specific, and she’s like “I want to write a song about two people who are having trouble with their relationship, and they are sitting at the beach, the sand is hot, and the pink umbrella they’re sitting under is filtering the sunlight.”

Elaina: I think that reflects my detail-oirentedness…

Vè: And then she goes, “Okay, now give me some words.” And the last time we tried that, all she told me was, “They’re fighting about something.” And I was concerned about more background. And then Elaina told me i was getting too detail-oriented… so we’re still learning how to navigate that balance of detail and creativity. I think Elaina’s now getting more general, and I’m getting more and more specific.

Elaina: It’s like we’re in a marriage.


What are some of your favorite songs to cover?

Elaina: All of the songs that we cover! When we’re driving around and listening to the radio, I’ll start singing the harmony of it, and Vè will start singing the main part, and then we just go, “We should cover this song…”

Vè: “Michigan” by the Milk Carton Kids.

Elaina: I think “Cough Syrup” is really good.

Vè: “Blank space.” Much love for Taylor Swift! Her lyrics are so good, and I’d say that she has the best delivery. We were in home depot, and we heard “22” come on…

Elaina: …And she got so mad, because it came out when I was 22, but Vè was 23…

Vè: I thought that Taylor Swift and I were the same age. Because we were both born in 1989, so I’m like, “Come on, girl, get it together.” But you know what? I’ll forgive her.

Elaina: “Last of My Kind,” which is a really old-timey song, it’s about the last unicorn. Just kidding, it’s not, don’t quote me on that.

Vè: I believed that for, like, a month! I said it in conversation once, and she was like “What are you talking about? That’s not a real thing…”

Elaina: It’s based on a book called “Jim the Boy,” and it’s based on a similar thing where he is the last of their kind. His dad has a heart defect, so he is the last grandchild and the last of their kind. But it’s a really good song!

Vè: We like to cover songs… They sound really good, and they’re so much less work. You just think, “I can do that!” And sometimes when you can do it better than them, you’re like, “Yeah, I can do this!”

How long does it typically take you to write a song?

Elaina: It’s usually that we start one, and then just come back to it.

Vè: We wrote one song one night where it was, like -7 degrees out at night, and I just came back from Puerto Rico for winter break, and I didn’t have my heat on. And it was already, like, zero degrees. So it was 2 in the morning, and usually it takes between 3 and 7.2 hours to write a song…

Elaina: Usually we start something and end it by coming back to it a few weeks later. I feel like it’s hard to know if a song is good if you just write it at once, because you’re in it and have no distance…


What has been your experience in the providence music scene?

Elaina: In Providence, there’s a lot of metal. There’s a lot of screamo, heavy metal. So it’s pretty hit or miss! like AS220 has a lot of live music, and so does The Spot. But I’d say that 50% of the time that you go there, it’s a heavy metal band. And I like that sometimes, just not 50% of the time. It’s a cool culture for the open mic stuff, like The Parlor has open mic stuff every Tuesday, and they’ve been really cool about letting us perform there.

Vè: It’s just that actual shows are not that well publicized in Providence. That’s the biggest difference between here and DC, is that in DC, even if it’s a small show, it will be advertised on an independent radio station, or it will be written about in a small paper or online.

Elaina: There’s the Providence Daily Dose that talks about a lot of stuff, but even then they don’t get it out in time.

Vè: That’s my biggest gripe, that there’s a lot going on in the Providence music scene, but it’s just not that well publicized. Which is a shame!

Do you have any advice for new musicians, or anyone who’s trying to start a band?

Vè: DO IT. if you even want to do it a little bit, you don’t have anything to lose. The worst thing that can happen is you join a band, and you’re bad. And then you can say, “I’ll learn from this and get better next time!” And then you practice more.

Elaina: I think that because music is something that people are so passionate about, when you meet another person who also loves music, you typically aren’t like, “Get out of my face.” You want to share it! But at Brown, there’s the Brown Music Collective, which is a really good resource. You can contact them if you need somebody in your band or something like that, and they also have concerts once in a while!


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Thank you, ladies, for sitting down and talking with us! They truly were a joy to watch play at Battle of the Bands, and just to have a casual chat with. Make sure to check them out on Facebook, and come see them play with Kale on Friday, April 24th at the Pembroke Field House!

PS. Make sure to check back soon for our Saturday lineup announcement, coming soon… Folk yeah!